Piano Notes: The Ultimate Guide to Learning to Read Sheet Music (2023)

There’s more to a piece of music than notes, rests, and repeats. Progress with your work. Read this advanced instruction to reading piano notes.

All cars eat gas. Every good boy does fine. These mnemonics are all well and good, but they’re not that useful when you’re playing a Schubert concerto at 135 bpm.

Between the treble and bass clefs, there are a lot of different musical notes on any given page of sheet music. Reading those piano notes is made even trickier withadditional music symbols.

To help you sight read as easily as you can read a newspaper’s headlines, here’s our advanced guide to Piano Notes II!

Your Guide To Piano Notes

Piano Notes: The Ultimate Guide to Learning to Read Sheet Music (1)

There have been a lot offascinating studieson music and memory in the past few years. Research shows that music actuallyhelps us remember things. Learning music can even helpchildren with learning disabilities!

Why not turn that to your advantage?

The trick lies in getting the rational and intuitive side of your brain working together. We’re going to give you a bunch of knowledge to mull over in your rational brain to help you bridge that gap.


We’ll start by reiterating one of the most basic but essential components of how to read sheet music masterfully. Practice makes perfect, just like with any other skill.

Even if you’re not an absolute beginner, it’s helpful to label the spaces and ledger lines with their note names. Fill out some blank staff paper with ‘FACE’ for the spaces and EGBDF(Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge) or ACEGB(All Cows Eat Grass) for the spaces and GBDFA(Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always) for the lines.

Make sure to include the notes above and below the main grandstaff, as well.

Spend some time with these notes. You’ll start to internalize the note names, automatically. You’ll be able to recall them just as easily once they’re ingrained in your muscle memory.

Understand the Parts of the Sheet

The first step that you need to undertake is to understand the parts of a music sheet. If this is the first time you have seen a music sheet, there might be some symbols you’re unfamiliar with.

One of the parts that you would notice first is the title of the piece and the author behind it. It’s usually centered along the bottom edge of the top margin with the first letter names of each word capitalized. At times, there may be a subtitle printed in a smaller font with the author names below it.

(Video) How To Read Notes (Beginner Piano Lesson)

The next parts you’ll see are the ledger lines. They refer to these as the staff (which we will discuss later). These lines are where you find the notes. All indicating the sound played on the instrument.

For the piano keyboard, the position of the note will tell the pianist which key to press.

You’ll notice various symbols scattered all throughout the sheet. These symbols would denote the counting (time signature) or which set of notes to use (clef). Some of these will need further study to understand how they behave and how you will proceed with the piece.

Now, look at a music sheet. You’ll see that there are two sets or groups of five horizontal lines. These are what you call the “staffs”.

“Bar lines” refer to those vertical lines. The horizontal lines that separate them are the “measures”.

The staff on the top is the “Treble Clef”. The notes you’ll find in here are higher than Middle C. The bottom, called the Bass Clef, is where you’ll find notes lower than Middle C.

Memorize The Note Values

Sight-reading music isn’t limited to melodic content. You’ll need to know how long notes last, as well, when learning how to read piano music. You can take piano lessons to learn how to read piano notes faster.

Learn the difference between whole notes, half notes, and quarter notes. Learn to differentiate between eight, sixteenth, and thirty-second notes, as well.

Just as a reminder, eighth notes are quarter notes with one flag. Sixteenth notes have two. Thirty-second notes have three.

If there are multiple sub-divided notes in a row, they’ll be connected by a bar. Eighth notes have one bar, with sixteenth notes having two and thirty-second notes having three. Just list their flags.

So, some easy shorthand for remembering the length of note values is to remember how many flags each sub-divided note gets. You’ll easily be able to translate that information for connected notes, as well.

Aside from the other symbols that you would see on the music sheet. The notes are the symbols that denote the specific sound that the instrument should produce. The positioning of each note on the staff will tell you the pitch needed.

But those are not the only things that it indicates. Notes have specific durations and timing that corresponds to the beat of the song. There are varying types of notes that you may encounter as you read through sheet music for piano.

Whole notes tend to have the equivalent of four beats. Half notes have two beats per note. Quarter notes have one note each. Eighth, and Sixteenth notes would denote half a beat and a quarter of a beat.

(Video) How To Read ALL 88 Notes On Piano

Not only that, but there are also measures of silence as well. These are Rests and they follow the same rules of duration as Notes. With the combination of each, you would know when to play a key or chord, and when you should leave it quiet.

Practice On Both Clefs

Learning piano requires being able to read both the treble and bass clef fluently. While it’s easy enough to learn one or the other, it can be a bit brain-splitting to do them both at the same time.

We’ve already talked about ‘FACE’ and ‘Every Good Boy Does Fine’. You should be pretty comfortable with the treble clef, at this point.

The bass clef simply shifts everything down two steps. The mnemonic ‘All Cars Eat Gas’ will help you remember the spaces of the bass clef. ‘Good Boys Do Fine Always’ will help you remember the lines.

Now that you’re aware of the note names, start off by practicing each clef independently. Develop a routine for memorizing and sight-reading treble clef note names with your right hand.

Then do the same thing with the left hand for the bass clef.

As we mentioned above, the notes that fall below the Middle C make up the Bass clef. To remain consistent with this learning to read music guide, let’s also start from the bottom.

Put Theory Into Practice

Translating the inky blots on the page through your fingertips into actual music is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to reading piano sheet music. Now that you’ve spent some time writing things out on the page, it’s time to start putting that into practice on your actual instrument.

Start with each clef independently, just like you did when you were first memorizing the piano notes. Stick to your regular practice routine, as well. Remember, practice doesn’t only make perfect, it also makes thingspermanent.

You’ll want to practice with a metronome if you aren’t already. You need to be as comfortable with rhythm and harmony as you are with melody. You should also stay in the habit of focusing on musicality, even when you’re practicing.

After seeing all the symbols and placement of notes. It is time to identify which note corresponds to the key on the piano. The white keys on the piano would correspond to the keys in the C Scale. Starting from C, followed by the keys D, E, F, G, A, B and ending again at a higher C. You would find them in the white keys on the piano.

The black keys are the ones between some of these white keys. Like the Eb being between D and E. Each of these keys has a place on the staff.

By knowing their positions, you will be able to play the notes in the sequence presented in the sheet music.

When practicing these sequences of notes, start slow until you feel the pace. From that point, that is when you start learning the song in its actual pace and tempo.

(Video) How To Read Music Notes For Piano (COMPLETE Step By Step Guide)

You can read more about theproper reading and interpreting of the sheethere.

Learn Your Sharps and Flats

On music sheets, you often find the symbols “#” and “b” beside notes. The pound sign indicates a sharp, while the one that looks like a lower-case letter b is for a flat(b flat).

When you see a #, that means you should play the next higher note. Say you see a C#. If this was for a Middle C note, that means you’ll hit the black key to the left of Middle C. If you see a Db on your music sheet, you’ll press the same black key.

There tends to have some confusion when it comes to sharps and flats, especially for a lot of beginner piano learners. Always keep in mind that black keys are always either a sharp or a flat. However, not all sharps and flats fall on these keys.

A white key can still be a flat or a sharp, as well as a major note. For instance, the Middle F (the third white key from Middle C) can also be an E sharp. The Middle B can be a C flat.

So, as a reminder, black keys are either sharps or flats. But white keys can also represent sharps and flats.

Learn The Dynamic Symbols

Now that you’ve spent some time mastering both clefs, you should be pretty familiar with the grammar of music. Now you’re ready to start spinning your vocabulary into actual works of art.

Like with language, music isn’t only about what you’re saying, but how you say it. Something whispered is very different from something shouted, even if the words are the same.

To master the dynamic symbols, start with the basics. P stands for ‘Piano’, which means ‘quiet’. Pp is ‘pianissimo’ which means ‘very soft’. Ppp means ‘pianississimo’, which means ‘more than very soft’.

Loudness follows the same formula. F means ‘Forte’, which means ‘loud’. Ff is ‘fortissimo’, meaning ‘very loud’. Fff means ‘fortississimo’, which means ‘more than very loud’.

Dynamics aren’t static on sheet music, either. There can be build-ups and breakdowns, as well. These are marked with crescendo and decrescendo symbols, which look like open-ended triangles on their side.

To truly master the dynamic symbols, find some sheet music for a song that you like. Read through the sheet music, paying special attention to the dynamics. Now go listen to that recording.

Listening to music with sheet music in front of you will help internalize what the different dynamics sound like. You’ll learn to differentiate between Forte and Fortissimo, which will help you reproduce them more faithfully in your own playing.

When you read sheet music, remember to study the basic symbols. While notes are among the ones that you will encounter.

(Video) How To Read Music Faster (Piano Lesson)

One of the symbols that is the Clef. These are symbols based on the reference pitches. These are often found at the very beginning of every ledger or staff line.

For example, you have the Treble Clef that has the G Clef pitch as the reference. You also have the Bass Clef, which has an F Clef pitch.

You might also recognize key signatures, which have sharp or flat notations. (Represented as # and the lower case b in respective order). The placement of these notations can also tell you which key you will be playing in.

There are also other symbols you should be on a lookout for. Time signatures are the two numbers after the clef, one on top of the other.

The number on top mentions how many beats per measure. While the bottom one denotes the note that equals one beat. The most common time signature is the four-four time signature.

There are also tempo marks, notations that tell you how loud or soft the notes should be. Examples are p for Piano, pp for Pianissimo, f for Forte, mf for Mezzo Forte, and so on.

Spend some time with these exercises, and you’ll be fluent inreading piano sheet musicbefore you know it.

Learning to read music is like learning any other language. At first, it’s a lot of work. Then it becomes a tremendous amount of fun, as you’re able to articulate your thoughts and feelings in new and interesting ways!

Don’t Forget Intervals

When learning the notes on a piano, you’ll also encounter what we call an “interval.” This refers to the distance between two notes.

To determine what this distance is, you only have to count step-by-step from the first note all the way to the next.

You call the interval between the C and the G note a “5th” because there are five notes from C to G. To be more precise, you call this particular interval is a Major 5th.

The interval between C and F is the “Perfect Fourth” or Major 4th. That’s because you have four notes from C to F.

Keep Practicing to Perfect Reading Piano Notes

These six steps are key to reading notes on a music piano sheet, so make sure you start from them. Keep practicing all these, and in time, you’ll master the piano notes as you read them. You may even learn your pieces by heart that you will no longer need to look at the piano keys!

The most important thing in learning the piano, or any other musical instrument for that matter, is motivation and consistent practice. With these, you’ll soon be on your way to playing even more advanced pieces.

(Video) How to read music - Tim Hansen

Want More Piano Playing Guidance?

Good for you! Learning to play music is one of the most rewarding and satisfying things you can do. You become a better person while making the world a more beautiful and artful place.

We hope you enjoyed our musicnotes on reading ‘Piano Notes II’. Make sure to browse the rest of ourpiano articlesfor even more guidance!


How do you read piano sheet music for beginners? ›

So middle c is located in the center of your piano it's the c nearest the middle. And this is what

What is the easiest way to memorize piano notes? ›

Has two friends he has a cat. And an elephant yeah he's a pretty weird dog. So cat C dog D elephant

What are the 7 musical notes? ›

In the chromatic scale there are 7 main musical notes called A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.

How can I read sheet music quickly? ›

Recognizing intervals is a quick and practical way to learn how to read sheet music because your fingers respond to the shape of the music. By recognizing common shapes and patterns, you will not have to think as much, and will therefore speed up your processing time, making you a faster reader.

How can I learn piano by myself? ›

How To Teach Yourself Piano in 10 Steps:
  1. Get A Piano/Find Yourself a Keyboard. ...
  2. Get Familiar with Your Instrument. ...
  3. Train Your Arms and Hands with Proper Positioning. ...
  4. Know Your Notes. ...
  5. Familiarize Yourself with Sharps and Flats. ...
  6. Set A Practice Goal. ...
  7. Start Practicing. ...
  8. Practice Your Fingers.
6 May 2020

How do I memorize music notes? ›

Some helpful mnemonics to remember this are “All Cows Eat Grass” or “All Cars Eat Gas”. The note names on the lines of the bass clef staff are G-B-D-F-A. Some helpful mnemonics to jog your memory are “Good Boys Do Fine Always” or “Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always”.

Do pianists memorize music? ›

Pianists typically start memorising a piece by learning the musical periods and then breaking down the major parts to the number of bars that they are formed of. This process should happen consciously and in most professional cases by just sight reading the notes.

What are the black keys on a piano called? ›

The white keys are known as natural notes, and the black keys are known as the sharps and flats.

How long does it take to memorize piano keys? ›

It takes about one month to reach the beginner level, to learn piano basics and get accustomed to it, multitasking, and learn basic music theory, like the values of notes. It can also take you up to six months if you don't practice that often and if you don't have rhythm and good motor coordination.

What is the fastest way to sight read a piano? ›

How to Improve Your Piano Sight Reading FAST- 3 Proven Tips

Why can't I read sheet music? ›

You may have a condition called musical dyslexia (also known as dysmusia) This is a similar condition to dyslexia but involves difficulty with processing music notes rather than words.

How do you read piano notes advanced? ›

How to Read Music: from Beginner to Advanced - YouTube

What is the most used music note? ›

C (and its relative minor, A) are the most common by far. After that there is a general trend favoring key signatures with less sharps and flats but this is not universal. E♭ with three flats, for instance, is slightly (though not statistically significantly) more common than F with only one flat.

What are the 12 notes on a piano? ›

The 12 notes are C, C-Sharp (D-Flat), D, D-sharp (E-Flat), E, F, F-Sharp (G-Flat), G, G-Sharp (A-Flat), A, A-Sharp (B-Flat), and B. Many beginners think that a sharp or flat means a black key. All black keys are either a sharp or flat, but not all sharps and flats are black keys.

Are there really only 12 notes? ›

Western music typically uses 12 notes – C, D, E, F, G, A and B, plus five flats and equivalent sharps in between, which are: C sharp/D flat (they're the same note, just named differently depending on what key signature is being used), D sharp/E flat, F sharp/G flat, G sharp/A flat and A sharp/B flat.

What should I learn first on piano? ›

The Musical Alphabet

Each of the white notes has a letter name. These letter names make up the musical alphabet, which is one of the first things a piano player should learn. The letter names of these notes link the piano to all other instruments and also to written music.

Can I learn piano in a month? ›

In fact, you can learn piano online in just 21 days – less than one month! How? By focusing on learning chords you want to play, not just the same boring notes and old-fashioned exercises. After all, most of us aren't trying to play piano in classical music.

Is piano harder than guitar? ›

Overall, the guitar is easier to learn than the piano. If you consider the layout, learning songs, the ability to self-teach and a few other things, it is an easier instrument. However, it's the easiest on average for everyone.

Is it normal to forget to read music? ›

Can you forget how to read music? Yes. You can forget how to read music. Brain plasticity works both ways – what you practice, you become better at but the skills that you don't practice, fade away.

What is the best way to learn notes? ›

Learning Musical Notes on the Staff - Best Way to Memorize Notes

Should you memorize sheet music? ›

To prepare for a performance, and to develop your memory, memorization is important. This allows you to put more feeling into the performance, and to improvise a bit if appropriate. It is difficult to "perform" if you are only focused on the sheet music.

Do pianists look at the keys? ›

Do pianists look at the keys while they play? The short answer to that last question is: YES! It's perfectly acceptable and normal for a pianist to look at their hands while they play. An important part of the design of any musical instrument is the necessary range of movement for the player in order to produce sound.

How do pianists play so fast? ›

So, how do you play faster on the piano? To play fast on the piano, a pianist must develop strong muscles and dexterity in the fingers. Routinely practicing scales, arpeggios, and other technical exercises help build the necessary endurance to play passages of music fast.

How many hours does a pianist practice? ›

Most professional pianists practice around 3-4 hours a day, though they may have had to practice as much as 8 hours a day to get to their current skill level.

Are ivory piano keys illegal? ›

In short, no, you cannot legally sell old ivory piano keys; they would have to be sold with the original pre-1975 instrument they are taken from. Often, ivory keys are offered to piano technicians who can hold onto them until they are required as part of historic restoration.

What does C+ mean in piano? ›

The C+ chord is made up of three notes – C, E, and G#. If you're new to chords, the '+' means 'augmented' and the chord is also referred to as the 'Caug chord', 'Caug triad', 'C augmented chord', or 'C augmented triad'. And you may notice that it's the same as the C Chord, but with a G# instead of G.

Are old ivory piano keys worth anything? ›

Ivory keytops are not valuable.

Because the trade in ivory is completely outlawed around the world, the keytops are not valuable. But even if it was legal, remember that only a thin veneer on top of the key is made of ivory.

How long should you practice piano a day? ›

Pianists should practice between 30 minutes to 4 hours per day. Beginners will benefit most from shorter practice sessions while advanced pianists will be more accustomed to longer days. Each practice session can be split into segments to help avoid physical and mental fatigue.

Is it hard to learn piano at an older age? ›

People can start piano at 60, at 70, at 80, even later. Your brain can still form new connections at any age. You can always learn new skills. For those who begin piano later in life, learning the piano may take a little more patience.

How do you read music notes for beginners? ›

The top number tells you how many beats are in a measure, the space between each vertical line (called a bar). The bottom number tells you the note value (the length) of each beat. In the example above, the time signature is 4/4, meaning there are four beats per bar and that every quarter note gets one beat.

How do you identify piano notes by ear? ›

Pitch ear training: Train your ear to recognize notes by playing the same note over and over while singing or humming it, and associating the sound with its name in your mind. The more clearly you can hear a note in your head, the better you'll become at identifying pitches.

How do you read piano tabs with numbers? ›

So, the number at the left of each line indicates what octave the notes on the line are located in. When reading the tabs, move from left to right, paying attention to any measure breaks that will be marked with vertical lines. Additionally, play the notes sequentially as you read from left to right.

How do you read sheet music chords? ›

Chord symbols are written above the top staff of the written music. A chord symbol has two basic parts to it — the chord's root note followed by the chord quality. The root note is the main note on which the chord is built. The quality indicates the type of chord (i.e. major, minor, dominant, diminished, etc.).

How long does it take to learn to read sheet music? ›

If you are a complete beginner, it may take 1.5 to 2 years before you feel like you are really sight reading. Here's a general rule: the difficulty of the music you are able to sight read well will always be about two levels below the difficulty of the repertoire you practice for recitals and such.

How do you read piano notes advanced? ›

How to Read Music: from Beginner to Advanced - YouTube

What are the lines on sheet music called? ›

staff, also spelled stave, in the notation of Western music, five parallel horizontal lines that, with a clef, indicate the pitch of musical notes.

Why is ear training so hard? ›

Musicians find Ear Training hard for two main reasons: They are doing exercises that are too difficult for them; They are following an approach that doesn't match how our perception of musical pitch works and develops.

Is playing by ear a gift? ›

According to most experts, the answer to this question is yes, it is a gift. Indeed, playing by ear is an innate talent that not everyone has but this doesn't mean that that person is necessarily going to be a great musician.

How can you tell if a note is sharp or flat by listening? ›

How to tell if your instrument is flat or sharp - YouTube

Is there such a thing as piano tablature? ›

Piano tablature notation is designed for simple music, and it's easy to learn. Piano tabs are written primarily using letters and numbers. Letters designate the keys to play (as opposed to the actual notes), while the numbers indicate beats as well as the octave.

What do lowercase letters mean in piano? ›

The most common way of notating the Key of a piece is to use an Upper Case Letter for a Major Key (for example: C Major) and a lower case letter for a minor key (for example: c minor).

What do numbers mean on piano sheet music? ›

Position of Notes on Treble and Bass Clef Staves

In the image to the left, you'll see a number next to each note. This number indicates the octave each note is in. The higher the number, the higher the note sounds. For example, C4 (middle C) sounds higher than C3, but lower than C5. They are octaves of each other.

What is the fastest way to sight read a piano? ›

How to Improve Your Piano Sight Reading FAST- 3 Proven Tips

What are the 12 major chords in piano? ›

There are 12 unique notes at the piano, which means we can build a major chord on each of those 12 notes - C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, Ab, A, Bb, an B. There is also a secret formula that only the wisest of piano instructors know about that allows you to build major chords starting on any note!

What does ø mean in music? ›

Instead, it means a diminished triad plus a diminished seventh. To make this distinction clear, the term "half-diminished" and the ø symbol (ø) were invented. Since the term dim7 (as in Bdim7) meant something else, the accurate but unwieldy term "minor seventh flat five" (as in Bø7) came to be used.


1. How To Read Sheet Music - Piano Theory Lessons
2. The Piano Sight Reading Tricks That Make Reading Music 100% Easier
3. The ULTIMATE Guide To Playing Piano - Part 1
(Dano Piano)
4. HOW TO READ MUSIC IN 15 MINUTES - with Julian Bradley
(JAZZ TUTORIAL with Julian Bradley)
5. Learn to Play Piano Lesson 1: How to Read Music
(Piano Lessons On The Web)
6. Learning Musical Notes on the Staff - Best Way to Memorize Notes
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